Being vegan used to mean missing out.
Not so long ago, if you chose to live a plant-based lifestyle, your menu options were limited to a side salad or spaghetti marinara (if they existed at all).
With 70% of Irish people now hoping to incorporate more vegan meals into their diet, however, these days, veganism is no longer a niche movement… and smart entrepreneurs are cashing in on Cork’s insatiable hunger for meat-free munchies.
Ask any city vegan where they go for a splurge and they’ll inevitably mention VeganKO, an unassuming little kiosk operating beside a petrol station in Turner’s Cross that’s been attracting as many flexitarians and vegan-curious diners as it has dedicated herbivores.
Owned by Douglas couple Nino Huzjak and Martina Ratkovic, who moved to Cork from Croatia five years ago, VeganKO has a reputation for dishing up the indulgent fast food treats we all know and love (think burgers, kebabs, cheesy fries, and nuggets) but without any animal-derived ingredients.
And all across the road from McDonald’s.
Having tested their concept at Douglas Park Family Market in 2019, the pair quit their jobs and poured every last minute into building their plant-based street food dream.
And it’s paying off; with the takeout and delivery business now thriving, Martina, a designer, photographer, and digital content creator, and Nino, who worked as a rider, fleet manager and operations representative for Deliveroo, have set their sights on opening a walk-in restaurant and a pair of new locations in 2020.
This is how they’re #workingit:
“Vegan KO is the future of fast food. The idea was in Nino’s head for about 10 years. He has great empathy towards animals and noticed the lack of vegan fast food shops and restaurants around Europe.” says Martina. “We hope that all traditional shops and big chains can replace their business concepts with sustainable, cruelty-free and less environmentally harmful business models.
Not all our customers are vegan. It’s about 50/50, just like we planned. For us, it’s all about engaging as many people as possible to reduce or quit their meat and dairy intake (and to satisfy vegans of course.)
We funded our business with hard work and savings. We also borrowed one part from family and friends (thanks guys) and now we’re working hard and hoping to get funding and loans to expand quickly. We admire local and international businesses that share our passion for positive change on a global scale.
Starting out, things were tough. The most exhausting part was definitely building and taking down our gazebo at the petrol station while we were rebuilding our catering trailer. The working hours were long (we’re talking 12-15 working hours per day with one or two days off a month) but it was satisfying to watch the business grow.
We’ve made a lot of mistakes. From kitchen choices and recipes that didn’t work out to our business approach and decisions, we’re actually happy to have made mistakes – we learned a lot from them.
We found ourselves in the right place at the right time. Promotions are quite easy for us. Our company name uses keywords found in most searches when it comes to veganism and we also have previous marketing knowledge; Martina knows what to put on social media and how to engage followers. There’s also a lot of celebrities and big campaigns promoting veganism so all that combined is working pretty well for us.
The best part of the week is thinking about upgrades to our recipes, reading good reviews and meeting and chatting with happy and satisfied customers. We’re extremely proud of our customer feedback. They’re very important to us and they’re mostly five stars. We’re trying hard to push quality products and we’re always improving them; happy customers are our main priority.
Our advice to another wannabe entrepreneur would be to take risks and follow your beliefs with no fear of failure. The heart is the best guide; success lies within things you love, therefore giving up is not an option.
We try to be ourselves on social media. We express our point of view through food stories. Martina is great at photography and all the social content is created by her. We also use paid targeted promotions, plan interesting content and work in regular giveaways – it worked for us.
We split work duties. Experience taught us that if you’re doing a couple of things at once, you won’t be as productive as you would be doing one thing right. Writing down tasks on a weekly basis is a must. We’re also looking at hiring more people in the coming months.
Success doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a slow process of earning the trust of the people, upgrading and improving and learning along the way. We’re building this brand from the ground up.
We switch off by taking road trips to other cities and trying out great vegan restaurants. Then there’s Netflix, dog walks at the beach, going to museums and catching up with our friends.
We have big plans for 2020. All our effort will be going into reaching new markets and customers at events and festivals. We’ll be announcing an exciting collaboration soon and our main goal for this year is to open our first shop with a seating area and two further permanent trading locations.